Friday, July 1, 2022

Young Adults Who Identify as Sexual, Gender Minority Report More Mental Distress

Young homosexual, bisexual, and gender-diverse people experience more mental distress than their heterosexual and cisgender peers, a study in Psychiatric Services has found. The difference in rates of mental distress between people who identified as a sexual and gender minority and those who identified as cisgender and heterosexual was strongest in those between the ages of 18 and 24 years.

“Possible policy and practice implications of the study’s findings include addressing the increased mental distress among [sexual and gender minority] young adults by prioritizing service delivery and reducing barriers to accessing mental health services for individuals in this age group,” wrote Lucas Zullo, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues.

The researchers examined data from 762,541 people who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System between 2014 and 2018. Among all participants, 734,670 (95.6%) were heterosexual, 12,166 (1.8%) were lesbian or gay, 12,609 (2.1%) were bisexual, and 3,096 (0.5%) were gender diverse. The age of respondents was categorized into six groups: 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54, 55 to 64, and 65 years or older. Mental distress was assessed with the following question: “For how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?”

Respondents aged 18 to 24 years reported the following rates of mental distress in the previous 30 days:

  • 34.5% of gender-diverse respondents experienced mental distress, with a mean of 6.5 days of distress.
  • 29% of bisexual respondents experienced mental distress, with a mean of 5.6 days of distress.
  • 25% of gay or lesbian respondents experienced mental distress, with a mean of 4.9 days of distress.
  • 14.5% of heterosexual respondents experienced mental distress, with a mean of 3.9 days of distress.

The level of mental distress also differed between sexual and gender minority respondents and cisgender respondents aged 25 to 34 years and aged 35 to 44 years, but not among those aged 45 to 54, 55 to 64, or 65 years or older.

“One possible explanation of the study’s findings is that, over time, older [sexual and gender minority] adults may have learned effective coping strategies that buffer against the health consequences of discrimination,” the researchers wrote. “To counteract the negative effects of discrimination, it may be effective to support the implementation of mental health services for [sexual and gender minority] young adults, such as affirmative cognitive-behavioral therapy.”

For more information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Predicting the Transition From Suicidal Ideation to Suicide Attempt Among Sexual and Gender Minority Youths.”

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